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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Pressure grows over Afghan aid workers
Taleban officials
The Taleban follow a strict form of Islam
Western diplomats in Pakistan say they hope to travel to the Afghan capital on Thursday to see eight foreign aid workers who are being held for promoting Christianity.

The countries whose citizens are involved have taken a joint decision to send consular staff to Kabul to press for information and access to their nationals - but it remains to be seen if the diplomats will be given visas for such a visit.

We have our concerns too, fair ones that these people have strongly insulted our religion and traditions

Taleban Minister Mohammad Salim Haqqani
Families of the detainees in the United States, Australia and Germany - along with politicians and the press - have been putting pressure on their governments to do something for the detainees.

The Taleban have so far refused to allow anyone to see the aid workers, who were working for the German-based Christian relief agency, Shelter Now International.

"They are all well, receiving good food and are being treated well," said the Taleban's Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Rehman Zahid.

The Deputy Minister for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Mohammad Salim Haqqani, said concern by foreigners was not justified.

"We have our concerns too, fair ones that these people have strongly insulted our religion and traditions," he said.

He said the Taleban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, would ultimately decide the destiny of the accused and it was premature to say whether any flexibility would be shown.

Taleban not recognised

No-one is pressing for the release of the 16 Afghan aid workers arrested with the foreigners, and traditionally, the Taleban have been harsher towards their own citizens than to foreigners accused of breaking the law, says BBC correspondent Kate Clarke in Islamabad.

The 24 who have been detained since Sunday are believed to include two American women, an Australian man and woman, three German women and one German man.

Like most countries, Germany, Australia and the US do not have diplomats in Kabul who can help nationals in an emergency, because they do not recognise the Taleban as a legitimate government.

Diplomatic contacts have to go via the Taleban's embassy in neighbouring Pakistan, which makes communication more difficult.

Material 'on computer'

The Taleban religious police say they caught two of the women - an American and an Australian - showing Christian material to an Afghan family on a computer in their home in Kabul.

The agency's offices and a school where the group was teaching 65 children were also closed down.

One of the Buddha statues at Bamiyan
"Idolatrous" Buddhist statues were destroyed
Shelter Now describes itself as a non-governmental organisation involved in food distribution, water supplies and helping street children.

The Taleban, however, says its activities are a front for propagating Christianity.

The Taleban militia, which controls 95% of the country, follows a strict form of Islam and takes a hard line towards minority religions in Afghanistan.

The regime provoked a storm of international criticism earlier this year for destroying two ancient Buddhist monuments, which it said were idolatrous, and for proposing that members of Afghanistan's tiny Hindu community should wear yellow stars for identification.

The BBC's South Asia Correspondent Kate Clarke
"The religious police are the most feared"
Stuart Worsley, Care International
"Pushing the Taleban is not going to yield results"
See also:

06 Aug 01 | South Asia
Afghan aid workers 'face trial soon'
06 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban crackdown on Christian relief
29 May 01 | South Asia
Afghan UN bread talks fail
10 Mar 01 | South Asia
Icon smashing - the precedents
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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